Rhonda Fleming, an actress from the golden age of Hollywood who was known for her fiery red hair, passed away on Wednesday in Santa Monica, California. She was 97 years-old.
Fleming’s death was confirmed to The New York Times by her assistant, Carla Sapon.
Fleming became a household name after appearing in her first colorized film A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1949, with audiences immediately becoming mesmerized by her red hair. Though she immediately became famous, she later said that there were some major drawbacks to becoming famous for her looks.
“Suddenly my green eyes were green. My red hair was flaming red. My skin was porcelain white,” Fleming said in a 1990 interview. “There was suddenly all this attention on how I looked rather than the roles I was playing.”
“I’d been painted into a corner by the studios, who never wanted more from me than my looking good and waltzing through a parade of films like The Redhead and the Cowboy,'” she added.
Throughout her career, Fleming starred alongside the likes of Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, and even Ronald Reagan, who she remembered fondly.
“He surprised everyone because he never looked in a mirror,” Fleming once said of Reagan. “How many actors can you say that about?”
Fleming worked regularly throughout the 1950s, but most of her appearances came in B-movies.
“I made the mistake of doing lesser films for good money,” she reflected in 1976. “I was hot — they all wanted me — but I didn’t have the guidance or background to judge for myself.”
After her movie career cooled down, Fleming married mogul Ted Mann in 1977. The couple spent years living in matching 4,300-square-foot condominiums, one on top of the other in a Century City high-rise
“I treasure my privacy, and Ted needs his,” Fleming once explained. “We love each other very much. I’m much more fulfilled today than at any time in my life.
After Fleming’s sister Beverly Engel died of cancer in 1990, the actress and her husband launched the Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center for Women with Cancer at the UCLA Medical Center. They remained active in various other charities supporting cancer patients, children, and the homeless until Mann died in 2001.
After Mann’s death, Fleming married again for a sixth time to Derol W. Carlson, who passed away in 2017.
Fleming made her last movie in 1980, and her last television appearance in 1990. She once said she never officially retired, however instead saying that she only chose to work less. While relaxing at home with her husband Mann in 1993, Fleming said, “My husband recently asked me if I’d seen any movie I wanted to appear in.”
The red-headed star went right for a specific role.
“I said yes, the dinosaur in ‘Jurassic Park.’”